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Prize will not be presented by Meghan Markle
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BooksJuly 3, 2018

Announcing the winners of the 2018 Surrey Hotel writers residency award!

Prize will not be presented by Meghan Markle
Prize will not be presented by Meghan Markle

Huzzah! We announce the winners of New Zealand’s most coveted writers residency in central Auckland.

An author who wants to write a book about professional mermaids – there is such a thing, and it’s worryingly kind of huge – is the winner of the 2018 Surrey Hotel Steve Braunias Memorial Writers Residency Award in Association with The Spinoff.

Megan Dunn has won seven nights free accommodation at the luxurious Surrey Hotel in Grey Lynn, Auckland, as well as $500 and generous pizza allowances.

Jesse Mulligan made the announcement on his Radio New Zealand show this afternoon, and also named the three runners-up. Traditionally the prize is only awarded to two runners-up, but an agonised, ill-tempered panel of judges simply couldn’t decide, and Surrey Hotel management generously agreed to take in an extra writer. The first runner-up is well-known short story writer Tracey Slaughter, who wins five nights at the Surrey; tied on second place are Nelson journalist Naomi Arnold and Rotorua writer Claire Baylis.

“Congratulations to everyone,” said Spinoff Review of Books literary editor Steve Braunias, “and many thanks to the Surrey for their support of New Zealand’s most coveted writers residency in central Auckland. It’s the only writers residency in central Auckland but by Christ it’s good. The Surrey is the perfect retreat, a warm, private world of silence, carpets, and dreams.”

Megan Dunn is the author of Tinderbox, a critically acclaimed and very strange memoir, published late last year. Hera Lindsay Bird conducted an interview with her for the Spinoff Review of Books (Dunn: “I am a writer hugely energised by silliness”), and Metro reviewer Susanna Andrew wrote, “Tinderbox is deadpan hilarious and Megan Dunn is a comic genius.”

Dunn will be able to work in comfort and style on her second book, I’ve Heard the Mermaids Skyping. She wrote in her proposal, “It takes a subject that seems trivial and perhaps even silly – the rise of professional mermaids – but investigates how this new aspirational job actually says something about the big issues of the 21st Century: climate change and the Internet..

I’ve Heard the Mermaids Skyping combines my personal quest to understand why so many little girls want to be mermaids with the stories of a generation of adult women (and men) who have grown up to become mermaids. It’s about giving up your legs for a silicone tail and returning to the sea – online.”

Tracey Slaughter will also work on a collection of short stories. Victoria University Press published her book scenes for deleted lovers in 2016. It was reviewed by Holly Walker, in the Spinoff Review of Books: “Slaughter shows us a New Zealand of flapping flyscreens, busted vinyl chairs, roll-your-own ciggies, quick fucks, and simmering violence. It’s working-class white New Zealand, with a distinctly bogan sensibility… These stories are note-perfect, plentiful, and pack an emotional punch that reverberates for days.”

Slaughter’s proposal notes that her new stories are often set in “the low-lit limbo of hotel rooms, where the characters’ crises or desires are played out or drained out”.

Runner-up Claire Baylis will work on her novel about a fictional rape trial involving a group of teenagers set in Rotorua. She had written a draft of 46,000 words, as part of her PhD thesis at the International Institute of Modern Letters. In her proposal, she wrote, “Prior to moving to Rotorua I was a law academic at Victoria University teaching and researching in Feminist Legal Theory and mediation…I have teenage children, and manage a water safety programme for children from low decile schools on a largely voluntary basis, so there are a few distractions.”

Nelson journalist Naomi Arnold will work on a draft of her book Southern Nights, a history of New Zealand astronomy and stargazing, to be published by HarperCollins next year. One of the most fluent, dazzling writers in New Zealand journalism, she has edited a collection of essays on anxiety which is about to be published any day now by Victoria University Press.

The writers residency award is now in its fourth year and was initiated after Steve Braunias booked a room to work on his book The Scene of the Crime. He valued the experience so much that he wanted other writers to enjoy it, too. Surrey Hotel management gave the idea their blessing, as did Spinoff publisher Duncan Greive, who will cough up $500 in hard cash as well as funding to cover a single value menu Domino’s pizza every night except on Sundays when the Surrey puts on a delicious roast.

The winners will need to make their own arrangements with hotel management to take up their residencies before the end of September, and will also need to contact Spinoff chief Duncan Greive for such things as money and pizza allowances.

Kelly Dennett won the 2016 prize, and went on to write The Short Life and Mysterious Death of Jane Furlong, published by Awa Press. The brilliant Charlotte Graham-McLay, one of the runners-up last year, is working towards finishing her psychological study of the classical ballet dancer.

The luxurious Surrey Hotel is an independently owned hotel complex in the Tudor style, with standard and deluxe rooms, swimming pool, conference facilities, restaurant, bar, and a cat called GM, a stray which now enjoys the good life.

It’s across the road from St Joseph’s Church, a fact we mention purely because the amazing stained glass windows were created by the great Milan Mrkusich, who died last month.

“I don’t want this story to end with a death,” said Steve Braunias, “so I’ll add that we wish the four writers all the best with their residency at the Surrey. They have the key to a magic kingdom.”

The Spinoff Review of Books is proudly brought to you by Unity Books.

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